Tastes of Paradise

September 2002

Program Notes



 Bacche, bene venies

13th c. German (Carmina burana MS), arr. Jonathan Miller

 Imbibing, Part I:  Wine


 For A Bass

Henry Lawes (1596-1662)

 Imbibing, Part II:  Beer

 En visa om öl (A Song About Beer)

Ulf Långbacka (Finland, b. 1957)

 Spices and other Exotics


 Chili con carne

Anders Edenroth (Sweden, b. 1963)

 Imbibing, Part III:  More Wine


 Adieu ces bons vins

Guillaume Du Fay  (1400-1474)
 In taberna

Carmina burana MS, arr. Jonathan Miller

 Coffee and Tea


 Java Jive

Oakland/Drakearr. Kirby Shaw

 From the Coffee Cantata:  Three Recitatives and an Aria

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
 Bagel-Shop Quartet from Suburb: The Musical

lyrics by David Javerbaum, music by Robert Cohen

 A Grand Recipe

 Pie R Pie

Malcolm Dalglish (b. 1952)




 Come, sirrah Jack, ho!

Thomas Weelkes (c. 1575-1623)
 Tobacco, tobacco

Tobias Hume (c. 1569-1645), arr. Anne Heider

 Summing It All Up


 Fragments from his dish (1997)

Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)

     1. Grace / The Clean Platter


     2. The Pie


     3.  Harvest in my Croft


     4. Christmas Day—1666


     5. Whines from the Wood


     6. Grace (reprise)




Lyle Lovett, arr. J. Mille

encore:  Fayer, fayer

Vladimir Heyfetz, arr. Mark Zuckerman


This concert owes its genesis to a little gem of a book, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Intoxicants, and Stimulants. Its author is Wolfgang Schivelbusch, a German historian and freelance write who divides his time between Manhattan and Berlin. I devoured the book on a short trip to Wisconsin back in 1996; I realized quickly at the time that a concert was in the making.

We are tracing, in music, the path over time of human beings' varied and quite humorous hunger for pleasure. You will hear songs and readings about substances which we eat, drink, and otherwise ingest or consume bodily. You will encounter recipes for things we do not make any more, sometimes with good reason. The music on this concert ranges from the simplest monody to harmonically rich partsongs and innovative contemporary works.

Historically, humans have spent large sums of money, and considerable physical and emotional energy, to procure substances of pleasure. We will process onto the stage singing the praises of wine, ushered in by Bacche, bene venies, a prayer to Bacchus, the Roman god (known to Greeks as Dionysus). Wine predates ancient Greece: according to Hugh Johnson, the leading authority on wine's history, people have used grapes to pursue the slightly-to-thoroughly-buzzed state for almost 8000 years. The solo ode to wine that follows comes from John Playford's Treasury of Musick, one of the greatest 17th-century English songbooks.

The earliest drinkers of wine thought its effect truly divine: they were not only getting slightly loopy, but they were glimpsing Paradise, a privilege which was otherwise reserved only for the gods. In turn, members of the medieval aristocracy believed spices to be their channel to Paradise.

Imagine for a moment that you run a small feudal community in 14th-century Germany. Your diet would be slightly better than peasant fare, which consists of cabbages, black bread, beans or salt pork, and some curds. Now imagine visiting your cousin down the road, who is in slightly better circumstances than you. Envision being introduced to a dish of good, fresh pepper; pork cooked with cloves and ginger; and a dessert made with cloves and mace. You are transported, by the smell and taste, to an almost otherworldly state—conjured up partly by the spices themselves, but more by the properties with which they were culturally invested. Once hooked on the cultural associations as well as the flavor of spices, you would likely spend vast sums of money to partake of them again. (Any foretaste of Paradise available to you during this life would be a big deal.)

The patina of exoticism which spices bore in Europeans’ minds was derived also from the vast distances these substances had traveled. European merchants brought spices from the Orient to Venice, the spice capital of Europe. Venetian traders sold them in turn to brokers, who would transport it themselves to satisfy the hungers of patrons across the continent. As is typical with fashion trends, the passion for vast amounts of spices came originally from the upper classes, which the middle class sought to imitate in its quest for upward mobility. Trading spices was, after all, the motivation behind the voyages of Christopher Columbus, who hoped to reach the spice lands of India by sailing west, avoiding a journey around the horn of Africa.

Ships, dangerous journeys, lands unseen, almost-indescribable plants and animals and smells, far-flung points on the globe: these are the complex associations and meanings with which the flavors of spices were infused. Another kind of merchant, the modern travel agent, knows how to describe and to sell you on someplace tantalizingly exotic. It's just out of reach—unless you buy a ticket.

Spices are indeed beneficial to humans and make our food taste better. The seminal role played by spices in the medieval European economy is indisputable. However, when these trends are viewed over the very long term, we can claim the following:  between the 1600s and the 1900s, no single substance seems to have transformed Europe like coffee. It was "the great soberer." Coffee got average people out of a general mental fog. Before coffee (and in England, tea) took over as the morning beverage of choice, beer and ale were the primary liquids for Northern Europeans, as water was not reliably clean. Beer was also a staple of nourishment as well, providing needed calories and minerals. We’ll tell you more about typical beer-drinking habits during the performance.

Northern Europe had been committed to beer as a way of life, but coffee made quick, irreversible inroads. Early arguments against coffee complain that it robs the body of its ”natural phlegmatic state”—cool and damp—which goes along with the heavy, stocky body image found in Rubens’ paintings. The desire for coffee can even replace other desires, as the young maiden in the Coffee Cantata so charmingly tells us. A tract from 1764 reveals women’s concerns that their husbands’ libidos were drying up due to coffee.

Coffee’s timing was perfect. It came along just when a great shift in consciousness took hold. It was truly the drug of the Enlightenment. The seventeenth century, Schivelbusch notes, was the century of rationalism, not only in philosophy, but in all the important areas of material life. The absolutist-bureaucratic state was built on the rationalistic viewpoint that originated in this period. Work in the newly burgeoning factories was organized rationalistically....

The seventeenth-century bourgeois was distinguished from people of past centuries by his mental as well as his physical lifestyle. Medieval man did physical work, for the most part under the open sky. The middle-class man worked increasingly with his head, his workplace was the office. . .  The ideal that hovered before him was to function as uniformly and regularly as a clock. In this connection coffee . . . spread through the body and achieved chemically and pharmacologically what rationalism and the Protestant ethic sought to fulfill spiritually and ideologically... The result was a body which functioned in accord with the new dernands—a rationalistic, middle-class, forward-looking body

The steady, running, clock-regular rhythms of Vivaldi are particularly well suited to sense in a society that values order and a high level of predictability. By contrast, chocolate has had mostly upper-class, Roman Catholic connotations. Chocolate is not for speed, but rather for ancien régime repose. 

”Drinking” is also how Europeans first referred to the taking of that other non-European substance of pleasure: tobacco, also called ”the dry inebriant.” In the trio Come, sirrah Jack, ho! you'll hear the phrase ”For I drank none good today,” meaning ”I haven't had any tobacco yet.”

Tobacco is coffee's counterpart. While coffee stimulates the brain to work, tobacco helps to calm active impulses and to harness one's mental energy for work. Like coffee, tobacco was introduced to Europe with great ceremony and ritual, as you'll hear in the snuffbox ceremony. Gradually, as Schivelbusch notes, the cigar and cigarette have come into being, enabling people to drop elaborate tobacco rituals and expensive apparatus, markedly quickening the period required for its consumption to the unit of time now known as a ”smoke.”

In our day, since the 1970s or so, our economy has shifted to being driven by another substance imported mostly from faraway lands. I am speaking of oil, or petroleum—itself a commodity from the East. At the same time that our culture’s excessive thirst for energy-driven objects has expanded to unprecendented proportions, another ”new” substance, strangely exotic, has captured the fancy of the middle and upper classes: bottled water. (Apart from the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, I don’t know any good songs about oil, so they will have to wait for a future concert, if they exist.)

It remains likely that we will continue to find new objects of pleasure. I'll leave the predictions to others. For now, enjoy the songs inspired by the pleasures of the palate, and come meet us after the concert. Thanks for coming to hear us.

—Jonathan Miller


Processional:  13th-c. German, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Bacche, bene venies

Most people are familiar with the Carmina burana poems through Carl Orff’s masterful setting. The melodies in Orff’s great work are his own, however. Instead, we are offering to you tonight the original melody from the 13th-century manuscript, which originated in the German town of Beuren (hence the name: burana means “from Beuren”). Did you ever know that wine could accomplish so many things?

Henry Lawes:  For A Bass

Lawes was the leading composer of English song during the first half of the 17th century. His songs are exquisitely sensitive to grammar, to the rise and fall of thought and sense. While this song was originally scored with lute, theorbo, viol, or other accompaniment, it works perfectly well with voice alone.

Ulf Långbacka:  En visa om öl (A Song About Beer)

Ulf Långbacka is the conductor of two esteemed student choirs in Turku (Åbo), the Swedish-speaking university town in southern Finland. The choirs are Brahe Djäknar (men) and Florakören (women). He himself was a student member of the male chorus. He took his music degree from Åbo Akademi, studied both orchestral and choral conducting at the Sibelius Academy, and took a conducting diploma in 1987. Since the spring of 1991 he has also been lecturer of music at Åbo Akademi. He has made notable contributions to choral literature with his compositions and arrangements, among which the rollicking Refräng made its Chicago debut in Chicago a cappella’s program The Nordic Wolf and the Water of Life (March 2001). En visa om öl comes to us via a clever album of drinking songs, titled Skål i öl och brannvin! (“Cheers in Beer & Booze”), recorded by the two Åbo choirs in 1995 under Ulf’s direction.

Anders Edenroth:  Chili con carne

One of our signature pieces, this song was first made famous by The Real Group, a vocal quintet from Sweden. Edenroth is their high male voice and an internationally-renowned arranger. This early hit first appeared on the album Nothing But The Real Group.

Du Fay: Adieu ces bons vins

DuFay's early work ushered in a new stylistic era in French song. His settings of the French formes fixes, such as this rondeau, were called "perfumed with sweetness" by the theorist Tinctoris.

13th-c. German, arr. Jonathan Miller:  In taberna

This is one of the truly great tunes from the Carmina burana book. It’s aggressive, strong, thoughtful, witty, and fun to sing all at the same time. When I arranged it this summer, I had just been to see The Bombitty of Errors at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, one of the funkiest, most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. If hip-hop elements made it into this score (like the slap-bass line halfway through), you’ll know what my inspiration was.

Ben Oakland & Milton Drake, arr. Kirby Shaw: Java Jive

J. S. Bach, arr. J. Miller:  Excerpts from Coffee Cantata

Javerbaum / Cohen:  Bagel-Shop Quartet

This short, comic piece is an excerpt from Suburb: The Musical, which won the 2000 Richard Rodgers Development Award for both the lyricist, David Javerbaum, and the composer, Robert Cohen. Suburb currently has productions in a number of American cities. Bob’s musical God in Concert: One Night Only received a staged reading at the Second Stage in New York under the direction of Lynn Taylor-Corbett. Bob was also co-author of the musical In My Life (for which he obtained the exclusive theatrical rights to the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue), which received performances at New Dramatists, Westbeth Theater and the American Stage Company. Mr. Cohen has also composed the scores for the musicals Knots, Sabbat, and Sunday Comix, which ran midnights at the Elgin Cinema. He has served as resident composer for the National Shakespeare Company, the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and the Manitoba Theater Center. In addition, he is co-author of the recently published short-story collection Romance Recipes for the Soul and is currently finishing a second book of short stories: The Half-Life of Pizza and Other Slices. He is a graduate of Brown University.

Malcolm Dalglish: Pie R Pie

Arguably the world’s finest hammer-dulcimer virtuoso, Malcolm Dalglish was for several years a leader in traditional Irish-and-American-flavored folk music, in tandem with the virtuoso flute player Grey Larsen and later (in the trio Metamora) with pianist and arranger Pete Sutherland. Malcolm has in recent years taken to choral composing, including writing some fine a cappella vocal music, and working with choirs in numerous settings. Probably his most famous work is the extended piece Hymnody of Earth. His newest ensemble, the Ooolites, hail from Bloomington, Indiana, where Malcolm makes his home.

Malcolm is famous in Minnesota as the composer of Little Potato, a wonderful song which he wrote at the birth of one of his children. That fame led to an appearance at which Malcolm improvised a solo spoken “riff” on the making of an apple pie. That experience led him in turn to create this superb ensemble piece, written originally for the choir a private boys’ school and later adapted for mixed voices like ours. The device referred to as a “rinky-tinky” is an apple corer-peeler, without which the experience of making this particular pie is not complete.


Thomas Weelkes: Come, Sirrah Jack, ho!

Tobias Hume, arr. Anne Heider: Tobacco, tobacco!

If "Java Jive" is the classic coffee song of the 20th century, embodying its sophistication and cool demeanor, then Tobias Hume's Tobacco song is its equivalent from the 17th century. Originally for solo voice and viol, this clever arrangement is for five men's voices by Anne Heider, a longtime colleague, superb musician, and director of Bella Voce. Her score is annotated, "with apologies to William Byrd"; she does a deft genre-switch to modern barbershop style before concluding in full Byrdeqsue manner. The text is a logical demonstration that tobacco has the same effects as, and thus is equivalent to, love.

Bob Chilcott: Fragments from his dish

Bob Chdcott was born in 1955 and was a chorister and choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge. On entering the commercial music world, he worked principally as an arranger and orchestrator, working for BBC Radio 2 and many choirs and ensembles. Since 1986 he has contributed substantially to the repertoire of the King's Singers with original compositions and arrangements, many of which are featured on the group's recordings. His experience as a singer has given him a deep belief in the communicative and social aspects of music which he has shared with singers in workshops in Sweden and the States.

Fragments from his dish is a cycle of six pieces on the theme of food, published by Oxford in 1997. The head of the American offices at Oxford generously bestowed enough copies upon us for Chicago a cappella’s American premiere of this infectious work, which we gave in 1998 when the “Tastes of Paradise” concert was first presented.